You are here

The Changing Face of Classroom Technology

How have the technology needs of teachers changed during the past few years? What tech support do teachers need now compared to what they needed a few years ago? How has the job of technology coordinator changed? Those are the questions we asked our Tech Team this month.

"As a teacher," John Tiffany told Education World, "I try to wow my students with technology; to give them something new to see and use. Hopefully, that sparks additional interest in the topic at hand.

"I have used a Smartboard for lectures and brainstorming," Tiffany noted, "and I currently utilize Unitedstreaming, a subscription video service that allows me to download videos and parts of videos for class. I've used a microscope hooked up to a computer and to a projector. In other words, I use technology as a way to draw students into the "same old" material from a different angle."

Tiffany's statement vividly illustrates the changes in classroom technology use that have taken place during the last few years. Just five years ago, most teachers were tech "newbies," struggling to learn computer basics, despairing of ever becoming proficient enough to integrate technology into their daily lessons. Most technology specialists were computer technicians and classroom cheerleaders, struggling to convince reluctant teachers that yes, they could learn to use such basic tech tools as e-mail and search engines.

Recently, we asked members of the Education World Tech Team to tell us about the changes that have occurred in classroom computer use, and to share with us how those changes have affected their roles as technology coordinators and technology integration specialists.

MORE USE, MORE DEMANDS

"Teachers are beginning to see that the computer is not a toy -- but a tool."

"During the past few years, teachers' use of technology at my school has changed quite a bit," Jennifer Wagner told Education World. "Though several teachers still are reluctant to use technology, those who have gotten on the bandwagon are much more demanding about what they want when it comes to software and computer use. They want newer systems and they want scanners, printers, and copiers. They want to make Web pages and they want to make them today!

"So, how has my job changed?," Wagner asked. "I've had to empower teachers more, just so I still can teach full time. Teachers who use technology seem to be more impatient if a problem isn't fixed immediately, so I created a troubleshooting guide for them to go through before they call me. I also have to be more stern, and not run to their aid if they haven't tried to follow the guide before they call me. It's terribly frustrating to get a desperate call that a printer isn't working and then run down during my 10-minute break just to find out the teacher forgot to take the tape off the printer cartridge. So, now, I ask, 'Did you check the troubleshooting guide? What were the results?' before I run down to fix a problem.

"Teachers are beginning to see that the computer is not a toy -- but a tool," Wagner added. "One first grade teacher faithfully uses computers in her classroom every day; I hope to add two more systems (for a total of five) to her room next year. She also is anxious to create her own Web page and post monthly newsletters to her site. That one teacher alone demands more of my time -- but because she is excited, it's easy to share her enthusiasm.

MORE EXPERTISE, MORE USE

"When I first started this job," said Beth Gregor, "I had my work cut out for me. I had to convince people that using computers would simplify their lives, not add extra work. That was eight years ago. Now, teachers use computers all the time, and they're more willing to do things on their own. Six years ago, we converted from Mac to Windows -- that was a challenge! -- and we insisted that everyone have a personal technology goal for the next four years. Everyone did exceptionally well. I knew I had succeeded when two people who had avoided computer use year after year bought computers for their homes.

"Now, my job deals more with showing teachers new things, sharing curriculum ideas, and fixing hardware issues," Gregor noted. "The digital cameras are checked out every day and teachers integrate the photographs into Web pages and newsletters. We continue to share ideas and search for new ideas on how to integrate technology into the existing curriculum. E-mail is definitely the way to communicate -- we check our e-mail more than once a day. We continue to update our class Web sites to share our class activities with everyone at home.

"Staff members use the scanner, cameras, computers, printers, wall-mounted TVs, and VCRs all the time," Gregor added. "We now have a new database containing all student information, lesson plans, and grades -- and we print our report cards from it. That has been a challenge to everyone this year! We continue to strive to increase and improve our use of technology. I no longer have beginners on the computers. I have experienced technology users who share their expertise with all."

LESS TIME, SHRINKING RESOURCES

"I find that my job as a technology integration specialist is much different than it was, say, 10 to 15 years ago," Linda George told Education World. "Technology has changed so much, and the availability of technology -- both in homes and schools -- has evolved. We have direction now, and more peer support, as well as a wealth of information available via the Web.

"Times definitely have changed from when we put big floppy disks into Apple IIe's and played Number Munchers," George noted. "We have combined that sort of machine with a terrific word processor and added an Internet browser, giving us an incredible tool. We can create professional presentations, draw, send letters around the world, type homework assignments, and research Egyptian pharaohs -- all while sitting at a single station. It's pretty amazing.

"My classroom teachers still need the basics though," George said. "Not all of them, but some still cannot retrieve their e-mail and get extremely flustered when called upon to do so. Some teachers can create PowerPoint presentations with no problem, but say that finding the time to add that sort of activity to their schedules is impossible. Those teachers add that even if every teacher created a terrific PPT show for Welcome Back to School Night it wouldn't do any good; we have only one projector in the school.

"As for the students, most get weekly 30-45 minute computer classes. I try to approach those classes by asking the teacher what I can do with his or her students to integrate something they are working on in the classroom," said George. "With a year under my belt here and about 20 years elsewhere, I can create a lesson quickly.

"Students in grades 3-5, spend the first 15 minutes of class using Type to Learn," George added. "I find more emphasis on keyboarding now, due to a mentality that everyone needs to know how to type. I agree, but I find that kids begin using instant messenger -- with improper keyboarding skills -- so early now that they really don't want to do it my way."

MORE HONESTY, LESS FEAR

"Technology now is seen for what it truly is -- a resource, not a be-all or end-all solution."

"What teachers need from me now is honesty," Nicholas Langlie told Education World. "A few years ago, my focus was on teaching teachers how to use software in a very step-by-step fashion. The grant money was plentiful and technology directors and coordinators were buying everything that looked like it had promise. After spending all that money, technology educators began to think beyond technology for technology's sake, to how technology might enhance teaching and learning. The novelty of buying new software and hardware evolved into a realization that technology means nothing by itself. Technology now is seen for what it truly is -- a resource, not a be-all or end-all solution.

"The educators who come to me for training now don't want a canned A + B = C PowerPoint tutorial," Langlie noted. "They want instruction on how PowerPoint can enhance a particular concept to increase student understanding and retention. I don't have to teach the same tutorial en masse anymore, because many teachers now know the basics and are interested in really getting some use out the software in ways that enhance their curriculum. I no longer have to sell teachers on the novelty of a piece of software; I can focus on how they think the software can work for them, in specific curricular instances.

"I can be honest with teachers now; point out what they need to learn," Langlie said. "When technology was a novelty, encouragement had to be positive to keep people interested. That isn't the case now. Most of my instructor colleagues/students have had at least some training in the basics, so I can be more candid about roadblocks, or about what needs to be worked on, without fear of scaring them away. Typically, at least in the higher education environment I currently work in, instructors are competent in their subject areas but lack some of the skills necessary to make their ideas a reality.

"Technological acumen is a lot like Swiss cheese," Langlie added. "My job is to help educators find where the holes are, assure them that the holes are natural and that filling them will be a relief, and then to lead them to ways to fill those holes. I can't tell you how many relieved instructors have come to me, after taking course I had found for them, to thank me for honestly pointing out that they needed a course in a particular area. They always are quick to point out how burdensome it was to not know how to accomplish somethingand the relief yielded some wonderful technology integration.

"Teachers need our honesty, so they can go beyond what frustrates, delve deep into pedagogical areas that enhance their view of technology as a resource, and create and enhance engaging content for students," Langlie concluded.

MORE DEMANDS, LESS TIME

"My job has become increasingly more stressful and more demanding during the past eight years," Julia Timmons told Education World. "As I try to analyze why, I can pinpoint a number of reasons.

"One, we had bad luck with the technology we purchased. Several times, we purchased from vendors who built their own machines, and we paid the price in quality. I've spent an increasing amount of my day, therefore, on technical issues, and I've acquired a wealth of information about networking and computer repair. Our division has learned, however, and we plan to purchase only from tier-one companies from now on.

"Two, we have more and more software, much of which is managed software. I spend a good bit of time enrolling our transient student population in a variety of programs that require passwords or track progress and keep records.

"Three, our division increasingly uses tech specialists to assist in the data collection, assessment, and monitoring of students related to NCLB. We have devised six week assessments for all four core content areas, and I spend about two weeks of every six enrolling students, printing scan sheets, and scanning and printing reports. I also design PowerPoint presentations for classroom tests and curriculum reviews prior to the "real" state tests.

"When I look at those demands on my time," Timmons said, "I find that I spend little or no time doing what I feel is the best way I can support teachers with technology -- planning lessons with them and gathering materials and resources. Our technology is being replaced this summer, however, and we are downsizing from five computers per classroom to one computer per classroom. I am very hopeful that I again will be able to teach teachers and work with technology in a way that will allow me to impact instruction and learning.

"The major change in teachers' needs at this point seems to be that they have increasing demands on their time," Timmons added. "They really need more facilitation on my part to successfully plan and implement integrated lessons. They are required to use technology regularly, but they really don't have time in the regular day to be innovative with lessons. Consequently, much of what is done in the computer lab is only marginally useful as far as impacting growth in learning. My goal is to be able to work with teachers as the curriculum experts, gather information and material they need, and then work together to implement lessons. I also hope to continue to work with teachers to develop a bank of quality curriculum-based lessons that use technology and are correlated to our learning objectives."

LIGHTING, NOT LEADING, THE WAY

"I've changed from a hand holder to a flashlight holder."

"My role as a tech coordinator has changed dramatically through the years," noted Lori Sanborn. "I've always told the teachers at my school, 'If I do my job right, I should work myself out of a job.' In fact, during the past nine years, I've changed from a hand holder to a flashlight holder.

"When I started this job," Sanborn continued, "I had teachers who wouldn't even touch a computer. They didn't want to and they didn't need to. My job was to hold their hands and gently guide them forward. As technology access increased, and the staff began to rely on computers for e-mail and Internet access, my job changed -- to helping teachers focus on what processes, software, and Web sites would enhance learning and the curriculum.

"I continue to fix computers and install software the same as I did nine years ago," Sanborn said, "but now I have the difficult task of keeping up with the newest operating systems while keeping old equipment running. Yes, there are still hands to hold, but there are fewer, and teachers start their careers with more technology skills. As a flashlight, my job is to illuminate the vast technology landscape and to help teachers access and utilize those areas of technology that improve student learning."

BACK TO THE FUTURE

"During the last five years," said university professor John Anchan, "I have found that students coming out of high school and into our university education program

  • need less assistance (have improved dramatically!) in using such software applications as Excel, PowerPoint, and Word.
  • have not demonstrated major change (i.e., improvement) in FTP and other Internet protocols, HTML and Web designing, searching the Web (focused and purposeful, rather than browsing).
  • are as bad as ever in writing skills (essays, critiques, commentaries, reflection) and pedagogical skills (especially obvious in introductory courses at the university).
  • are much more situated in learning specific task-oriented and pedagogical skills (e.g., WebQuests) than were students in the past."
Who Are They?

The Education World Tech Team includes more than 50 dedicated and knowledgeable educational-technology professionals who have volunteered to contribute to occasional articles that draw on their varied expertise and experience. The following Tech Team members contributed to this article:

* John Anchan, associate professor of education, University of Winnipeg, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
* Linda George, technology integration specialist, Dondero School, Portsmouth New Hampshire.
* Beth Gregor, preK-4- technology teacher and elementary technology coordinator, Pleasantdale Elementary School, La Grange, Illinois.
* Nicholas Langlie, online teaching/learning support, Hudson Valley Community College, Troy, New York.
* Lori Sanborn, technology specialist, Rancho Las Positas School, Livermore California.
* John Tiffany, science teacher, Wauseon High School, Wauseon, Ohio.
* Julia Timmons, instructional technology specialist, Paul Laurence Dunbar Middle School for Innovation, Lynchburg, Virginia.
*Jennifer Wagner, computer coordinator, Crossroads Christian School, Corona, California.

Article by Linda Starr
Education World®
Copyright © 2004 Education World

05/19/2004


 

Comments